Monday, September 30, 2013

Going to school on Sundays--Seriously??

Right at the start of the semester here, we have had quite a few days off. We had the Mid-Autumn Festival, with a four day break, and now it is National Day, with a whopping seven day break. But in China, when you have a break, a thing that makes sense is that you should make up for the days that you had off, right?? RIGHT??

When I first heard that we would be required to make up all Fridays off by holding class on SUDAY instead, I was surprised, to say the least. First of all, there is the logical thing of, why would we make up only Friday's class, and not do anything about Thursday's missed class? And what about all of the other days we miss for longer breaks? All of this Friday class make-uping has actually given us a surplus of Friday class sessions, and now we've attended it two times more than classes on other days of the week, and a week of attending class six days in a row!

And then the little anglo-christian deep inside of me was like--"You can't do that, Sunday is the day of rest!" I felt it so clearly, sort of like a violation of the sanctity of Sunday or something. I have not considered myself a religious person for a long time now, so it must have been something left over from way back in my childhood, when my family would go to church.

When we asked our program why the class schedule is arranged this way, we got a few different answers. It turns out that the holiday schedule is different every year, and that schedule does not get published until after the school year starts; this makes it impossible to know exactly how many class hours you will have when you pay your tuition. So that whole making up class things is so that you can what you paid for as far as class hours go. But there is another questions too, which is why isn't the holiday schedule the same every year, and why does it take so long to get it published?

 But its not just schools that are affected: government organizations are making up the days too. That means that thousands of people are living with uncertainty of their vacation time, and without the benefit of a fixed schedule. This creates problems as far as traveling, and creates a rush to buy tickets for the holiday. For example, if you're going to visit relatives, you have to either take a gamble on the dates to buy tickets before the rush comes on, before the dates are announced; or wait until the dates are announced and fight for train tickets and hotels with the rest of 'em. I have a classmate who decided to try and get plane tickets before the travel rush, but he got his dates wrong and had to miss a week of class because of it.

These are just the facts of life in China: waiting on government bureaucracy, odd regulation... No one bats an eyelash when this type of thing happens. Most people just shrug and say "It's just China," and get on with it. And it is a rather trivial matter...

Anyways, food for thought! Happy National Day everyone! Cheers~

Monday, September 23, 2013

中国改变得非常快:China is changing so fast...

At like a breakneck speed. Back in America I always heard people say this, in both Chinese and English, but it was sort of hard to get a grip on what it meant to me, as a young person, from a small US town.

But now that I am here, I know exactly what it means. It means 24hr/day construction. It means leaving for a year and not knowing what your town might look like when you come back. It means new structures going up so quickly you kind of wonder if they are structurally sound. It means ditches in the road, ambiguous traffic directions, and dangerous intersections. It means NOISE, all the TIME noise, the oh god did I just damage my ear drum a little bit kind of noise. An army of men in orange helmets out on the street running cement saws in flip-flops.

 Right down the street from my house, there is a big sports stadium where they will be holding the Youth Olympics next August, so in preparation they are putting in all manner of new underground stations and flower planters by the road.... SPORTS *shakes fist*

Sometimes at night I can here the high powered trenching machine at work. It makes my boyfriend's flat in San Francisco, conveniently located on 19th avenue (aka the freeway), seem like a sanctuary of peace and tranquility. It is very odd to see everything torn up like this. I am not sure if I just happened to get plopped right down in the middle of one tiny construction project, or if this is really related to the ubiquitous "China is changing" trend. I feel like it must be, on some sort of grand scale.                    

Saturday, September 14, 2013

观光中山陵和明孝陵: Mausoleums at Purple Mountain

Yesterday we went to Purple Mountain 紫金山 to see the Sun Yat Sen's Mausoleum and to see the Ming Xiao Tomb (I don't really know the official name in english). WOW so magnificent, you must look at these pictures.

These places are particularly beautiful not by accident; they are chosen specifically because they have the best fengshui 风水.They are south facing so that the sun will be shining on them the whole day long, and also must be facing water, a symbol of clarity. They must back up against a mountain for protection, and must themselves be up in a high place, so that you must look up towards the tomb, a sign of respect. Very cool, had a fun time walking up all those stairs.

Had a great birthday!

I had my 22nd birthday last weekend, everyone, yay! It was really great! Barbie took me out to dinner, and we had a giant korean hot pot feast. Then drinks at Alec's place, and then to karaoke! I have to say that I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, it was so fun. Maddie gave me a card with the cutest bookmark ever, and Brian brought us little cakes! And of course obligatory singing of happy birthday. Karaoke was that it was so luxurious! You get your own private room to fit in a ton of people, and they bring your drinks, and there are TV screens everywhere. I was just really impressed. Also, it was so wonderful to have so many new friends together, it was just a good time.

Me and Sean breaking it down
Birthday noodles! Hopefully they will bring me a long life!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The only thing I have to say is: WTF Wells Fargo

I get it all the time: “You still have Wells Fargo? Why don’t you switch to a credit union?” After all of this nonsense, I think I just might do that. And to all of you little lambs out there who are thinking that your mega bank has treated you right so far, and why would they do you wrong when you are abroad, think again. 

I will tell you from the beginning the story of why my bank sucks. 

So I brought over a whole boatload of cash. I went to the bank and got $2000 USD exchanged into RMB and took it with me on the plane in my parents ancient money belt. It is a little zip pocket which you strap around your waist and lug with you all over the planet. I would REALLY recommend doing this. I would even recommend taking more cash, like 4000, or even 5 if your feeling ballsy. 

I recommend this not just so you can feel like a baller with a huge stack of cash strapped to you like a gangster, although will most certainly be the case. I would mostly recommend this because around here, cash is king. They do not accept Visa at the tiny jiaozi market, or the corner baozi place. There is no visa card reader at the second hand bike market. There is not even a card reader in my realtors office; I have to pay all of my five months rent up front in cash! You need to get liquid real quick, and if there is a block in your cash flow, you’re going to be hurting.

So for the first week or so, everything was great. I had all kinds of money, was paying for expenses left and right, checking things off of my list. Until the day that all of the cash that I had brought with me was gone. I went to the ATM, and lo and behold, I could only take out 1000 kuai per day, as opposed to the promised 2500 that all of my classmates had referred to. This only comes out to about $150USD, a much smaller number that what I can normally take out in the US. And the only reason that I can think of as to why they would arbitrarily change this daily limit is simply to make you pay the $5USD surcharge more times in order for you to get the same amount out of the ATM! 

Think of it: in order for me to get 2500kuai out of the bank I could either a. take 2500 out at one time, and pay a one time fee of $5USD, or b. go to the ATM three times, and pay 3x as much in fees. This is clearly the only reason why wells fargo has done this to me. 

So now, in order to pay my 15,000kuai in rent up front, I have to remember to go to the bank every single day and withdraw my measly 1000 kuai, and pay $5USD each time. By the time I actually get the rent out of the bank, I will have paid 15 ATM fees. 

Some things you should ask your bank before you leave: 

-What is your cash withdraw limit abroad? Can you raise it? Make it the highest amount possible. 

-Does your bank have any sister banks abroad? Wells fargo does not. Charles Schwab Is supposed to have some pretty good deals. Also Bank of America does have some relationships with Chinese Banks. 

-What is the ATM fee to withdraw abroad? 

-What is the fee to use you debit card to make purchases abroad? 

-Most importantly to ask yourself: How much cash will I bring with me abroad? How will I get direct access to my money when I need it on the spot? Even ask you bank what they recommend, and try to decipher their answer as coming from a blood draining money hounding perspective *shakes fist*

First day in Nanjing

I can't believe I just got here yesterday, so many things have already happened. I was jet lagged and woke up super early, got up and searched out some coffee on Guangzhou Lu and then Me and Barbie met up and headed to the Flagship office together, where we filled out some forms and were sent to go with realtors to go look at apartments. We split up and headed out with separate realtors on the back of motor bikes, at one point we were three to one bike! The sky was dark when we left, and then not a moment after we stepped inside at the first house did it start pouring rain. It poured for a few hours, but we dawned ponchos and looked at a few places. 

A few useful tips for looking at houses:
-rent is usually about 3000-3500. If you pay more, it will be bigger and nicer. Keep the in mind if you are a penny pincher going for under 2000. 

-ask if the have Internet equipment installed already. This is convenient, and you won't have to wait the two days for them to install it. Ask if the is an air conditioner and heater in the apartment. Ask if utilities are included in the rent price.

-see if you can get a deal for five months only. This will be better than 6 months most likely, and certainly better than a year. Your realtor will help you with the six months, but you'll have to fight for the five. 

-you can choose to use a realtor or not. The realtor will charge you a fee of at least 50% of one months rent, and up to 85%. Try not to pay the full month. They will find you a place quickly and take you around to look at the apartments which is pretty fun in itself.  

-don't split up with your classmate, and have someone who has already been the a few days To along to be your advocate. Sometimes the realtors can be pushy. 

Anyways, had a really fun time looking. Will tell you about my new place soon!